Canada, Norway change their ways: New approach bases foreign policy on human issues

In the fjords of Norway, over dinner at the architecturally astounding estate of an eccentric Norwegian composer on the Island of Light, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy says “mild history” was made this month.

Lost in the media din of India’s nuclear tests and the white noise of endless and inconclusive talk at the summit of Russia and the leading industrial nations, Mr. Axworthy and Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek signed a declaration.

They believe it will put an end to the old values of “realpolitik” and usher in a new era of foreign policy based on human security issues.

“I think the contrast between what we were putting together at the same time the Indians were exploding their nuclear weapons, which is the old realpolitik, says something,” Mr. Axworthy notes. “We’re saying that we’ve got to put a different equation in place.”

The Lycoen Declaration states that Canada and Norway share common values and approaches to foreign policy — specifically emphasis on enhancing human security, promoting human rights, strengthening humanitarian law, preventing conflict and fostering democracy and good governance.

The partnership, which has already attracted expressions of interest from Ireland and is open to all “like-minded” nations, has laid out a preliminary nine-point agenda focused on land-mines, formation of an International Criminal Court, human rights, international humanitarian law, women and children in armed conflict, small arms proliferation, child soldiers, child labour and northern co-operation.

“We’re going to take this on as a very specific, committed part of our foreign policies,” Mr. Axworthy said before leaving for this week’s meetings of North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

“Instead of having an ad hoc coalition that reacts every time one of these issues emerges, we want to organize ourselves and other countries, as well as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and organizations like Amnesty (International) and the Red Cross, around these principles and objectives.”

By doing so, “we can actually choose what the priority is, how we can best use our resources and how we can undertake within the larger international system a very concerted, co-ordinated, collaborated drive toward these matters,” he added.

Mr. Axworthy shrugs off suggestions that this is yet another “boy scout” initiative that will be ignored by the world’s major powers and be largely ineffectual.

He views the increasing rancour between Europe and the United States, most recently seen in the inability to unite on a meaningful condemnation of India’s nuclear tests during the summit, as reason enough to try something different.

“If you’re not getting consensus out of these organizations then you have to develop a different track … That is really what soft power is about.

“It is affecting and influencing behaviour by information, by values and by forms of non-intrusive intervention.”

He points to the recent invitation by Algeria to Canada and Norway to establish a program for children in that civil war-wracked country.

“Working together we find we are able to apply ourselves in a new way where the traditional methods clearly were not going to work.

“We have sent parliamentarians and a special envoy to Algeria to study the situation and we are now being asked to use the resources Algeria does not have to assist children in a conflict zone.

“That’s clearly the sort of issue that is on our agenda and it is not an issue that the G8 or NATO or the Organization of African Unity or anybody else is going to deal with.”

Mr. Axworthy says Canada and Norway are taking the new partnership on human security “one step at a time,” but plans are already being made for meetings of Canadian and Norwegian academics and NGO representatives this summer.

Mr. Axworthy and Mr. Vollebaek plan to meet again in September to discuss plans formulated by their respective bureaucracies and will determine then whether there is sufficient grounds to pursue the project.

“We’ll take the next two or three months to see where it’s going. If we get enough like-minded nations together, maybe we can get together at the UN’s General Assembly meetings this fall.”